Domestic cats cool down by:
- Panting like dogs. You’ll see cats panting when the ambient temperature is very hot and when cats are very anxious in a warm environment which makes them hot because of anxiety induced movements. The usual time I see my cat panting is inside the car when I am taking him to the veterinary clinic. Inside a car can be very warm in summer (until the air conditioning clicks in) and he’s anxious and moves around a lot inside his carrier. This leads to panting quite quickly.
- Sweating from the paws of their feet. You’ll see this in the veterinarian’s consulting room. Cats leave paw prints on the table. This is sweat deposited on the table. Although humans are well supplied with eccrine sweat glands, cats only have eccrine sweat glands on the foot pads. Eccrine glands are the major sweat producing glands on both humans and cats.
- Licking their fur coat. When a cat licks her coat she deposits saliva on her fur. This evaporates and in doing so it cools the cat down through what I like to describe as the latent heat of evaporation. This is the same process that cools the body by sweating.
- Staying still i.e. they stop being active as activity generates heat in the muscles. You may have heard that the cheetah overheats if she runs more than about 400 meters. She must stop to cool down. This overheating limits the cheetah’s ability to chase prey beyond a certain distance. Therefore she has to be successful quickly. Cheetahs have a good hunting success rate, however.
- Finding a cool place to lie down such as a cool surface in the shade. You must have seen this when your cat comes inside the home and plonks down on the tiled kitten floor to cool off on a warm summer’s day. Or they’ll find a nice shady spot outside, under a bush and observe the world go by.
The big barrier for a cat in respect of cooling down is obviously the fur coat. It seems unsuited to hot weather and yet the domestic cat’s ancestor, the North African wildcat, lives in North Africa and that’s a hot place. Although at night it can be cold and even below freezing. The coat therefore is not so unsuitable in terms of regulating body temperature.
This inheritance from the wildcat gives the domestic cat a high degree of tolerance to ambient heat but there is a limit.
Note: the cat also has ‘specialised apocrine sweat glands’ all over the body. They produce a milky fluid associated with sexual attraction by scent. These are not sweat glands concerned with regulating the cat’s body temperature.